After making it through the 2020 football season without fans, Corey Pompey said the feeling of his marching band returning to a Camp Randall Stadium full of Badger fans for the first time in 2021 was indescribable.
"For a large chunk of the band, they (had) never marched in the stadium before," said Pompey, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Marching Band. "They never had that crowd response."
Pompey and the band are preparing for another first this week, and they are hoping to find a repeat of the thrill that comes with performing in front of a large, live crowd.
After the 2020 and 2021 Varsity Band Spring Concerts were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the band will hold its renowned concert Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison.
"It’s a huge deal," Pompey said Wednesday on WPR’s "Central Time." "This concert, up until COVID happened, had been going on for 46 years. To not continue that tradition was a big blow to all of us."
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It won’t only be the first concert since the pandemic started. It will also be the first spring concert without Mike Leckrone, who retired in 2019.
Pompey said the transition in leadership was big enough on its own. But COVID-19 made growing chemistry and cohesion even more challenging.
The band didn’t do any public performances for an entire academic year, he said. They could only meet in small groups. The band didn’t really come together fully until August 2021.
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"Managing that was a real challenge," he said.
READ MORE: Ahead of his first home game, new UW band director talks about his vision for the program
Not being able to rehearse in large numbers meant they lost a sense of togetherness. But he said they got through it the best they could.
Pompey said he doesn’t want changes they make to their shows to be apparent to the average listener and viewer. He wants the band to be the band, no matter who is leading it.
"We’re thankful that we have the opportunity again," he said. "We’re just excited to get this thing off of the ground."
Well, some things will be staying on the ground. More specifically, Pompey will not take to the air and pretend to fly above the crowd as his predecessor Leckrone was known to do.
But concertgoers can still expect the style of production the show has put on for decades, he said. They can expect a "heavy dose" of music featured in the 5th Quarter, the performance that follows Badger football games.
Beyond that, they can look forward to performances such as "Bohemian Wait for It," "Country Classics" and "The Music of Panic at the Disco," according to the band’s website.
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. shows Friday and Saturday are $25 and $15 for UW-Madison students. They are available for order online here.